City of Lawton Might Purchase the Central Mall for FISTA
The news broke late yesterday evening, or at least that's when I first heard about it. The City of Lawton is considering purchasing the Central Mall for the FISTA (FIRES Innovation Science and Technology Accelerator) project. The Lawton City Council will be meeting today (10-16-20) at 2:00pm CST in a special session to discuss the possible purchase of the mall. So what's the price tag? 14.6 MILLION!
Last month it was announced that the FISTA program would be located in the old Sears space in the Central Mall, click here for all the details. The LEDC (Lawton Economic Development Corporation) switched locations. Originally FISTA was to be housed at the old Fairmont Creamery building. After the deal fell through they focused on moving the project to the Central Mall. It would definitely be easier to remodel than the Creamery, however the price tag went from around 2.5 million all the way up to 14.6 million.
While I don't consider myself an expert on the inter-workings of local government, economic development and expansion I still have strong thoughts on the topic. In my honest, humble, non-bias opinion I think it's a total waste of time and money. Why the hell would the city buy the mall? It's a failing business model all across the country. There are malls closing permanently every day then being transformed into garage sale bazaars and auction houses. At least those that aren't being turning into distribution hubs for online vendors.
Like it or not brick and mortar is struggling, especially malls. As more and more consumers are doing their business and shopping online. We couldn't keep Sears or Dillard's here, but the city wants to purchase the mall. Even if they completely changed the structure of the entire mall from retail to office space I seriously doubt it would succeed. If we're looking to entice businesses to come to Lawton there are better ways of doing it that dropping 14.6 million dollars in the hopes industry and corporations would lease the properties.
Why not major tax breaks and incentives? That's how most major cities do it, that and other incentives. If the city of Lawton has 14.6 million they're looking to spend why not fix all the roads that destroy cars. Take care of our police department and hire on some more officers, same for the fire department. Fix our infrastructure and failing sewer systems or how about we take care of our city employees, especially those that were let go or furloughed during the pandemic. To add to that how about we amend the trash pick up. Due to budget constants they reduced trash pick up to once a week instead of twice a week. That will start in any day now, they said sometime in October. I bet with 14.6 million dollars you could re-hire some people or hire on additional personnel and purchase more trucks and other needed equipment.
I think spending this kind of money without addressing the list above first is recklessly irresponsible and beyond stupid. The City Council will discuss it today at 2:00pm. A decision this big and with this big of a price tag needs to be put to a vote of the people. We should absolutely have an opportunity to vote on whether or not the city proceeds with purchasing the Central Mall.
I'm sure those in favor of this ridiculous plan fear a vote because I seriously doubt the majority of Lawtonians would check the yes box. I know I wouldn't.